A veritable cornucopia of cinematic wonderment is washing in from far and wide these days, led as always, by a stellar collection of new and upcoming Criterion releases. I'm therefore going to attempt a little round up of the most interesting of these titles and make all the staff newbies' continuing employment conditional of viewing and answering snap quiz's about them at the time of my choosing.
Barring these DVD's ending up at Drop Kick's or Nikki's place only to see the light of the FBW months later, after all the publicity has died and no one cares any more, the cream of the crop are....
24 Eyes (Nijushi no hitomi) ... A haunting 1954 Japanese epic about a young teacher with 12 pupils (pun intended, though accidental) over 30 years. I'm guessing it will bore most of you A.D.D. iPOD cellphone sufferers to death, but this is a beautiful, nuanced piece about the tragic arc of a young woman's life and worth the effort. It's stayed with me for years.
While not out yet, a Chinatown burn of Johnnie To's new Mad Detective is kicking around and remains one of this year's best films. To is Hong Kong's top film maker and he reimagines the detective film in a way that breathes new life into a much-worked genre. A must see.
The Small Back Room... A movie that I had mixed up with another British film from around the same time known as The Hidden Room (also excellent, but it has nothing to do with this one). This is a Powell/Pressburger film about a post WW2 bomb-defuser that I saw years ago and remember liking. As with all of their films, this one is taut, well written and beautifully shot.
Brand Upon the Brain.... Guy Maddin's middle film in his life-series (the other two being Cowards Bend the Knee and My Winnipeg) is interesting, a little daunting at 1 hour and 37 minutes, but wholly unique in a completely un-Hollywoody way. It's a Lynchian narrated-memory piece about growing up on an island where a boy's loony parents run a weird orphanage. It's shot in frenetic jiggling black and white with stream of consciousness editing and has a cool sound track. Completely original. Now that we're neighbours I bought too many copies in a veiled effort to impress him if he happens into the store. How sad is that?
Two on the horizon.... Last year, Criterion's fall release of Army of Shadows probably saved me from driving a pair of scissors into some snivelling middle-aged Roncey-mother's forehead (who was likely complaining that her little demonoid offspring was traumatized by the intense magic-violence of a Harry Potter film) and the subsequent prison sentence that would have inevitably followed. Notwithstanding that fact that I have retired to a kind of self-imposed exile at Casa Segredos to combat these homicidal urges, this autumn looks good for the ongoing health of Roncey-Yuppie-Bombers with the release of two more Melville masterpieces, Le Doulos and Le Deuxième souffle. It strikes me as strange that watching existentially grim French neo-noirs that inevitably end in the death of the protagonist at the fickle hands of fate puts a little extra spring in my step and brings a smile to my face. Bring on the little bastards and their parental basket cases. I'm immune to your blather and crass, self-indulgent ways. You want a baby scoop with 3 flavours in waffle cone? Nope. Next! You broke your third DVD in as many rentals and want to rent more but not pay because it wasn't your fault? Fuck off. Next! The lesson here? Jean-Pierre Melville saves lives. I'm really hoping for a release of Melville's nearly unseen Magnet of Doom next fall.
Aftermath – When the Idiots are Gone. National Geographic put this wet-dream of mine on DVD and while it spends an excessive amount of time on what would happen to poor Fido if everyone just up and disappeared one day (ie: he would be torn apart by nuclear-irradiated super mice or just die of loneliness and starvation – you need opposable thumbs to work that pesky can-opener ....dontcha boy!), it's pretty darn good. By the way, camels are looking good because they eat anything (even McDonalds) so if you really care about having a pet that would survive this eventuality, look no further. You barely have to water them, but I digress. Imagine... no people... I get goosebumps and giddy all at once! Imagine...silence... no Portuguese gangbangers driving around in lowered Honda Civics with their subwoofers set on “earthquake” listening to bad rap. No one in any of the 47 espresso bars on Roncesvalles. Nobody at City Hall calculating how to rework the roads so that they don't work and everyone has to take the non-existent transit system. No one at Walmart buying shit they don't need that they'll have to replace in 3 months because it broke...again. I just quiver with joy when I think about it. I think I need therapy.
The Band's Visit.... I'll end here, on an up-note. What a terrific film this is. An Egyptian police band takes a wrong turn on the way to Ben Albuquerque and ends up in Ben Nowhere, some back water Israeli town in the middle of the desert. There, they meet a woman (who might just be the sexiest person on the planet) who runs a local restaurant and a beautiful story of cultural exchange and human interaction unfolds over the next 24 hours of their lives. This is a film that you can recommend to anyone (except if she has scissors sticking out of her head and is holding a traumatized 2-year-old). It was a complete treat.
Last night a pleasant/spacey womyn of about 30 ambled up to the counter and asked if we had Ram Dass/Fierce Grace. Yup. I looked it up and said it was rented - due back a week ago - but that that wasn't a huge surprise given the type of person that typically rents Ram Dass/Fierce Grace lives on a higher plane and doesn't much go in for the little stuff like returning their movies on time or feeding the cat. I wish I had a camera so that I could have caught the look she flashed. It was that rare perfect combination of a marginally forced smile, uncertainty as to whether I'd just insulted her or not, despair, disappointment, and annoyance with a hint of smug indifference and an uncertain air of quasi-superiority that she didn't quite pull off. Did we have any other films that details the spiritual journey/transformation of someone to a place of perfect transcendental bliss?, she asked. What about Batman Begins? I suggested. The look again...only better this time.
I imagined that most of the conversations Joe has ever had....ended with a variation on that look.